Life in the PlayStation Vita

The PlayStation Vita is Sony’s second handheld gaming machine. Unlike its predecessor, the PSP, the PlayStation Vita succeeds in delivering console experiences on the go. With the amazing hardware coupled with one of the greatest launch lineups for any gaming device, hardcore gamers should strongly consider picking up a Vita.

It is important to note that there are two separate editions of the Vita: a $250 Wi-Fi only model and a $300 3G version. The benefits to the 3G model include access to asynchronous multiplayer (think turn based games and leaderboards) as well as sending and receiving messages. I personally chose the $250 Wi-Fi only model and would recommend it over the 3G, especially since the latter requires an expensive monthly data plan through AT&T.

The PlayStation Vita immediately impresses with its beautiful HD OLED screen. No other handheld gaming device comes close to matching the sheer graphical prowess achieved by the Vita. One of the biggest Vita launch games, “Uncharted: Golden Abyss,” achieves a level of graphical detail just shy of the PS3 games in the series.

The sophisticated graphics that the Vita is capable of producing is backed by a competent array of ways to control each game. The standard D-pad, face and shoulder buttons are joined by dual analog sticks, front and rear touch panels, front and rear cameras, and even motion control. Of all the improvements over other previous handhelds, the dual analog sticks produce the biggest impact. It is finally possible to have serious action games on a handheld, since you can control both movement and the camera across the two analog sticks as on the consoles.

The Vita feels comfortable to hold overall. There is a nice weight to the device that complements the overall look and feel. I am very impressed with both the D-pad and the dual analog sticks on the Vita, as each held up during intense usage. Where the Vita can be frustrating is the back touch panel; in a game that uses rear touch, it is far too easy to accidentally touch it even if you are conscious of trying not to.

The core strengths of the Vita are certainly impressive, but there are some frustrating aspects present as well. The menu system is not entirely intuitive. It is exclusively touch-based, and isn’t ideal with how it displays or launches content. The Vita also struggles with legacy problems associated with the PSN. Intrusive firmware updates are present with the Vita, and the download times for the both updates and downloading games are far too long. The entire process of downloading “BlazBlue” straight to my Vita, for example, took over 50 minutes.

The most frustrating problem with the Vita is the memory card situation. In general, memory costs a dollar per gigabyte or less, but with the Vita’s proprietary format, memory is significantly more expensive. Memory card prices range from $20 with a 4GB card to up to $100 for a 32GB card. Memory cards are necessary for playing and downloading Vita games, so the actual price of the Vita can jump fairly quickly. When Vita games are downloaded, there is usually a small discount over the retail price, so there is extra incentive to buy one of the bigger memory cards.

With the Vita, the hardware is only half of the story. Upon its launch, the Vita boasts 26 games. The majority are of high quality. I personally picked up both “Uncharted: Golden Abyss” and “BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend,” but there are plenty of other really great choices such as “Rayman: Origins,” “Super Stardust Delta” and “Lumines: Electronic Symphony,” to name a few. This is on top of the over 200 PSP games already available for download through the Vita PSN store.

For the hardcore gamer, the Vita delivers on its promise to have uncompromised console experiences in portable form. With an absolutely gorgeous display and solid controls to back it up, the Vita is in many ways the ultimate handheld gaming device. If the incredible launch lineup is any indication of its future, the Vita is a must-have device.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5